It’s pretty easy to get locked out of a car, and if the key gets lost or locked inside of the vehicle without a spare handy, then there's a real problem.
Sometimes, people have been forced to take extreme measures to retrieve keys that have been locked inside of a vehicle, some even going so far as to smash one of their own windows. Tempered glass is treated to shatter into thousands of pieces when it breaks so that there are no large shards of glass flying in an accident. You can avoid the hassle and cost of breaking open a window and cleaning up the glass shards if you know the right way to break into your own car.
There are a few techniques that you can try, as they don’t take particularly specialized equipment and they can be done by people with little or no prior locksmithing experience. Calling a professional locksmith is usually an option, but there could be a long wait or professional locksmiths may not be available nearby.
- Warning: If a child or pet is trapped inside of a car, call the police or fire department to get them out as quickly as possible.
Unless the situation is an emergency, don’t rush any of the steps involved. Don’t force the door open. Damaging the doors or the locks themselves turns an inconvenience into a serious problem.
- Warning: Do not use these instructions to break into a car illegally. On top of the fact that felonies are not advisable, all methods listed here have a high likeliness of setting off the car’s alarm. Luckily, if the police do happen to show up, it may solve the problem entirely. Most police officers carry with them a strong inflatable airbag that can be used to open a door and access the lock.
Method 1 of 4: Unlocking a door with manual locks from the inside
Using a tool like a wedge (professionals use a powerful airbag), it is possible to open the top of the door wide enough to get a metal rod around the locking pin and pull the pin up, thereby unlocking the door.
- Tip: In most vehicles, it is possible to open the door just enough to insert a thin metal rod or a bent hanger and use it to unlock the doors.
It is important to use a technique that addresses the specific type of lock the vehicle has. There are two main types of locks:
|Types of Car Locking Mechanisms|
|Type of Lock||Unlocking Procedure|
|Manual lock||Have fewer pieces and wires to hinder someone trying to unlatch the lock from outside the vehicle
Less sophisticated alarm systems
Easier to reach and pull up when wedging the door open
|Automatic lock||More secure
More likely to be connected to an alarm system
Need to be unlocked via a remote controlled button
Step 1: Use a wedge or tool to hold open the door space. Find something thin that can be used to open up a gap at the top of the door, between the car’s body and the doorframe or window.
- Tip: You could use a putty knife, a ruler, or even a doorstop for this purpose.
Step 2: Slide the tool into the door gap. Wedge the tool into the space between the body of the vehicle and the top of the door on the side opposite the hinge (this corner can be pulled out the most). Pull the space open with your fingers to make more space for the tool to fit into.
Step 3: Keep inserting the tool until it is visible. Carefully work the tool down and into the space until it is visible through the window.
- Note: Be careful not to tear or damage the weather stripping while inserting the tool.
Step 4: Make a hook. Now you can fashion a tool or hook to grab the locking pin. A clothes hanger works well, but you can use whatever is handy.
- Note: The end has to be able to fit around the bottom part of the pin and pull it up to open the lock. This is tricky, and getting the right ‘lasso’ for the locking pin may take a few tries.
Step 5: Open the lock using the hook. Use the wedge to open up a space large enough to fit the tool into the car. Grab onto the locking pin with the tool and pull up on it until the door unlocks.
- Tip: Depending on the vehicle and the type of lock, getting into the car may take a bit of patience. Trial and error may just end up being the most efficient way to solve the problem. For this reason, it is a good idea to have a professional solve the problem unless the situation is an emergency.
Method 2 of 4: Unlocking a door with automatic locks from the inside
With automatic locks, the amount of difficulty involved in unlocking them from the outside is decided by two things:
- How easy or difficult it is to pull the door away from the car’s body
The location of the button or switch that controls the locks
Note: In a non-emergency situation with a vehicle that only has an “unlock” button on the center console, for instance, it may be easier to call a professional. If the button or switch is somewhat accessible, then you can break into the car with relative ease.
The steps to get the top of door away from the body are the same as with manual locks: simply use a wedge or other long, thin tool to make a space and then use another tool to press the “unlock” button.
Step 1: Identify how the locks are activated. Automatic locks may be activated in a number of ways. Check whether the unlock button is located in the central console or on the driver’s side.
Step 2: Make a hook or loop tool to press the button. Some automatic locks have a simple button on the armrest of the driver’s side, and a straight metal rod or other tool can be used to reach the button and press it to unlock the door.
If there is a switch or if the button is not easily accessible, then the tool may need a hook or loop at the end. Trial-and-error is the best technique for finding what works.
Tip: Just like with manual locks, a straightened clothes hanger works well for this purpose.
Tip: You can also unscrew the antenna from the car and use it to push the unlock button.
Method 3 of 4: Unlocking the door from the outside
In some cases, it is faster and easier to make a lockout tool (also called a Slim Jim) to unlock the door from the outside. This technique takes a little bit more finesse, and is more likely to damage the weather stripping and/or the wires inside of the door.
- Warning: This is not a recommended method for opening doors containing automatic locks and/or automatic windows. The significant increase in the amount of wiring inside of the door itself makes serious damage too much of a risk.
Here is how to use this method:
Step 1: Make a ‘Slim Jim’ tool. To fashion a Slim Jim, it is best to use a coat hanger or other long, relatively thin piece of metal and straighten it out, bending a hook into one end. This is the end that will go into the door.
- Note: If this tool bends under the strain, double the hanger over and make the end that is folded over into the hook as this is much stronger.
Step 2: Insert the Slim Jim into the door. Since there are usually more wires in the driver’s door, it is best to use this method on the passenger side door. Slip the tool in between the weather stripping along the bottom of the window and the window itself.
- Tip: Pulling the black weather stripping back slightly with your fingers will make this move a lot smoother and easier.
Step 3: Open the lock with the hook. The locking mechanism is located right under the locking pin, so try to use the hook to grab the inside of the locking mechanism by sliding the hook back toward the lock and pulling up once the hook grips the lock.
Tip: The mechanism will be about two inches below the bottom edge of the window.
Note: This may take a few tries, and some mechanisms may need to be pulled back towards the rear of the car instead of being pulled in the upwards direction. Keep trying different motions until the lock is disengaged.
Method 4 of 4: Gain entry through the trunk
With manual locks, there is a chance that the trunk is unlocked even if the doors are locked. If this is the case, then it may be possible to get into the vehicle through the trunk.
Here’s how you can unlock the vehicle through the trunk:
Step 1: Open up the trunk. Look for any opening that you can use to get into the interior of the car.
- Tip: Usually an opening like this is located in the center of the rear seats.
Step 2: Push the rear seats forward. Look for something to press or pull on that would allow you to lower the rear seats and push them forward. Many sedans have a cable that can be pulled on for just this purpose. Look all along the edge of the rear seats.
Step 3: Get into the car. Crawl into the car and unlock the doors manually.
- Tip: These techniques are certainly effective, but performing them in a parking lot, for example, may attract some suspicion. Always keep a cool head and have identification handy in case authorities show up.
If you use any of the above methods to open your car when you lock your keys inside, you won't have to resort to breaking a window to get your keys back. If your car’s trunk, door or power locking mechanism refuses to unlock/lock, get a certified mechanic, such as one from Your Mechanic, to inspect the locking mechanism.